Is it the song that’s good or is it the production?
This blog post loosely accompanies Gab & Jam, episode 249. Is it the song that’s good or is it the production?
This post piggybacks on “What’s a great song” episode (Gab & Jam, ep 175: https://bit.ly/Ep175greatsongvid ) The songwriting gurus tell us to “start with a ‘great’ song,” but in this episode, we’re going to push back on that notion.
Here are some ideas to consider when deciding if it’s a good song or if it’s “good” production:
1. We are told...
We are told to always to that start with a great song, but I think it’s easier to polish a turd than to overcome bad production on a great song. For instance, if the song, “I Will Always Love You” was out of key and out of timing, it would be hard to appreciate. Therefore, part of what makes the song “great” is its production values—which includes an amazing performance by Whitney Houston. Not only was it re-released to a pop audience—instead of the original country market—but it is done so with a movie that turns out to be a hit, so this time around, the same song is a “hit” with everyone.
So what we’re saying is that a “good” production includes the instrumental and vocal sounds chosen, as well as the performance and, possibly, the arrangement of the song, and also—sometimes—who is brought in to produce the record. –It’s fair to say that you would NOT call Quincy Jones—or replace his name with any “hit-making” producer—in to work on a song, if you do not think that he will help you produce a hit out of said song. These producers work with the musicians and singers, bring in the instrumentalists who they think would “add” something to the song, as well as know when to have a player or singer record another/different take of a song in order to bring the best out of the song. Bringing in this level of talent to help shape a song adds MORE than simply recording a song, but also gives the song a certain sound that can make or break its success.
Did you miss “What’s a great song?” episode (Gab & Jam, ep 175: https://bit.ly/Ep175greatsongvid )
2. There are many bad songs...
There are many bad songs that had the “right” production for the time that were hits. “Disco Duck” and “The Macarena” or “Gangnam Style” would be good examples of this phenomenon. Each was MASSIVELY successful for its time period, but we would contend that it was MORE due to the production and cultural value at the time, and NOT because they were great songs.
3. Ultimately, you HAVE to be concerned ....
Ultimately, you HAVE to be concerned with production more now than ever before, because there is no such thing as a demo. In the new music business, artists no longer record songs “for demonstration purposes only.” Instead of a demo, songs are expected to come in the door—at WHATEVER label or publisher or sync licensing house—already recorded to be “radio-ready.” This means that the brunt of making a song sound like a “hit” is on artist. Great song or not, the production has to be on par with what is expected, so that it can be put straight out to market with little or no fuss. Therefore, as independent artists, we don’t have the LUXURY of not having our production as dialed in as possible, so that we can showcase our “good” song. If a good song cannot be discerned BECAUSE of inadequate production, it will not get taken seriously.
4. Some songs cannot be fully realized...
We heard a group that we’ve recommended previously, performing live in-studio (with just a guitar and vocal) and know for a fact that we would have NEVER been enthralled with the songs had they been produced this way. Songs need that ENOUGH spit and shine to showcase their unique characteristics and some songs cannot be fully realized WITHOUT "big" production. Whereas, songs like “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle,” they are still exciting. However, this may be partially due to Sting’s uniquely distinctive style.
Another facet of production is deciding to take parts away. –Again, stylistic choices fall in the land of a “production” and is not purely the composition of a song. In fact, early Rick Rubin-produced records would get a liner note credit, saying “Reduced by Rick Rubin”—instead of “Produced by…” This was a reference to his minimalist production style.
5. Most songs now are a product of....
The majority of songs that we hear today are a product of production, we think. Often there’s a “sound” that’s popular, so songwriters try to replicate that sound in order to gain popularity. And, since many of those songs are shared MORE often during the time the sound is hot, one—or MORE!—of them is BOUND to be a hit, so does THAT mean that it’s the song that’s great? Or is it the fact that the song has this sound (which is created through production techniques)?
6. The bottom line is...
The bottom line is that you do not need a great song to be successful, since there are tons of songs that aren’t great that are successful. However, we think that it’s easier to “polish a turd” with good production, but HARDER for a good song to overcome bad production. –If you consider that you have to dig on a MUCH deeper level to discern the depth and talents of a homeless person—BECAUSE of their appearance—then, you will understand how hard it is to “hear” a good song whose vocals are out of tune or whose mix is COMPLETELY horrible. However, folks MIGHT listen to a song that is NOT so good, if it is in tune, sounds professional, sounds culturally current, and is sung well. –In essence, we’re accustomed to “judging a book by its cover,” when it comes to what music we listen to.
7. Best we can deduce...
There’s a symbiotic relationship between the two. That there is some combination between the two that is going to express the creative voice of the artist yet be able to convey the unique character of the song, so that folks can hear it and relate to it. We surmise that the two are inextricably co-dependent and that, as D.I.Y. Rock Stars, we have to find that sweet spot where the song AND our brand shine through equally.
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What do YOU think?
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Here’s what we’re into now:
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· Tom Ray’s Art Podcast: https://bit.ly/tomrayspodcast2june2022
· “Sugar Fit” on Darkest Corners of the World Podcast S2 E3 http://bit.ly/sugarfitdarkestpod
· “Flying High” (from “Sugar Fit” album) on Toes in the Sand Playlist http://bit.ly/toesplaylist
· “Sugar Fit” on his Spotify “Indie: Undiscovered But Brilliant: Vol. 3” http://bit.ly/SugarFitonPlaylist2
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